Sport divers awarded $12 million after being struck by propeller

Two sport divers, a father and son, were awarded $12 million for injuries they received after being struck by the propeller of a 46 foot commercial dive boat, the BIG DIPPER, near Key Largo, FL in 2011.

The divers had just entered the water when they were struck by the propellers.  They suffered extensive injuries and had to have emergency crainiotomies in which part of the skull is removed until the swelling of the brain decreases.

Boat operators must be vigilant and keep lookouts when swimmers are in the water. 

In 2001, the Coast Guard published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would have required the owners of houseboats to install propeller guards to protect individuals in the water from these types of strikes.

In 2007, the Coast Guard withdrew this NPRM because:

“after reconsideration of the costs that would likely result, the characteristics of the safety measures to be required, and uncertainty concerning the appropriate definition of “houseboat.” The Coast Guard believes its resources would be better directed toward regulatory projects that would have a greater impact on propeller injury avoidance.” (see withdrawal notice)

The largest cost factor in this analysis was related to having to take the houseboat out of the water to install the propeller guard.

This is not a factor for small passenger vessels, such as dive and snorkeling excursion boats, because the Coast Guard requires them to be removed from the water at least once every 5 years for a safety inspection.  A propeller guard could easily be installed at that time.

The Coast Guard should require snorkeling and dive boats that are subject to inspection to have propeller guards installed to prevent these types of injuries.

The Coast Guard estimated that a propeller guard costs $300 each – a small expense that would have saved these men from significant injuries and saved the vessel owner and his insurers $12 million.

The Florida Keys News story on this settlement is at this link.

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